On November 30th C-SPAN cablecast taped coverage of a Moot Court Trial originally held on June 4, 1997 in Washington DC. No, it wasn't a reprise of the 1987 Moot Court. It was instead a Trial of Richard III, held before three Supreme Court Justices (Ginsberg, Rehnquist and Breyer) in the Supreme Court Building. The event was organized by the Lawyers' Committee for the Shakespeare Theater in Washington.
As Oxfordians know, the Richard III story has intriguing implications for the authorship debate, since the central issue is whether or not the portrait of Richard III immortalized by Shakespeare is in fact true history or political propaganda designed to make the founding of the Tudor dynasty look good at the expense of Richard III.
Shakespeare's Richard III has a crook-back Richard ordering the murder of the young princes, and thus "deserving" of his fate at the hands of Henry Tudor. The verdict in this Trial was unanimous-evidence was insufficient to convict Richard of having had any role in the murders.
What was (to our knowlege) not reported about this Trial was one of the concluding comments from Justice Breyer. In finding Richard not guilty (and fingering Buckingham as the most likely culprit), Breyer remarked that he had been used to accepting Shakespeare's version of events, until, that is, he "discovered that Shakespeare was really the Earl of Oxford."
On October 30th Joseph Sobran came to town to take on three Stratfordians in a debate at Boston College. The debate had been arranged by Father Ronald Tacelli of Boston College and was sponsored by the College's St. Thomas More Society. Father Tacelli had read Sobran's Alias Shakespeare last spring and found himself so interested in the authorship issue that he went straight from being an interested observer to an activist.
The debate format called for Sobran to speak for thirty minutes, followed by five to seven minutes of rebuttal from each of the three Stratfordians, and then questions from the audience.
For Oxfordians in attendance the evening was quite interesting. Sobran's talk was similar to his appearance at the conference in Seattle earlier in October. In short, he built his case on the personal testimony of the Sonnets, and how the Sonnets and such "personal" plays as Hamlet resonate with parallels to Oxford's life. But it was remarks by the all three Stratfordians during their rebuttals that provided some of the evening's most interesting and quotable lines.
All three rebuttals covered the basic points anyone engaged in the authorship debate is familiar with, e.g. the chronology, the testimony of contemporaries that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, the impossibility of any conspiracy, the methodology of Oxfordians in using the works of Shakespeare as evidence and then quoting "selectively" from the works, etc.
Prof. Thomas Howard, who teaches undergraduate Shakespeare courses at BC, spent much time talking of how his "maverick personality half-wishes that Sobran were right," further commenting that "I'd be the first to be delighted if we found out that these [the Sonnets] were written by the Earl of Oxford," and concluding with "You [Sobran] have placed a burr under my saddle, but I still think I'm sitting on the horse."
Prof. Dennis Taylor (also from Boston College) then spoke, and after listing some basic questions he felt Oxfordians must answer, he turned to his current research for a book on Shakespeare that will explore the theory that Shakespeare [i.e. Stratford] was a secret Catholic. This would, he stated, then explain some of the mystery about the author's true feelings and about his shadowy whereabouts during the years of his greatest fame. His concluding comment was, "The English Catholic and Protestant split was a repressed trauma in English life [every bit as important] as Shakespeare and the Shakespeare authorship story ... unearthing the true story of Shakespeare might have a lot to do with unearthing that buried trauma."
The final Stratfordian to speak was also the most notable. Prof. John Tobin of the University of Massachusetts-Boston is co-editor of the new Riverside Shakespeare. Prof. Tobin was the most outspoken of the three in his defense of the Stratford story, and began by expressing his disappointment at how much time Sobran had been given compared with the three rebutters. He did praise Sobran for having written what he described as "the very finest argument for Oxford," but added that "he [Sobran] knows many, but not enough, of the facts."
Finally, then, he went on to make the usual points, giving much emphasis to the standard chronology as excluding Oxford altogether because of all the post-1604 plays. "For Oxfordians," he concluded, "the problem is 1604 and selective interpretation."
Prof. Tobin also made an interesting observation about the state of orthodox scholarship in the 1990s. He said, "It is a mistake to think of establishment Shakespeareans as closed-minded ... we are particulary interested in broadening the Canon ... [In the new Riverside Shakespeare] we included a new play (Edward III), and arguments in behalf of Shakespeare as a collaborator (Henry VI, Part I, Henry VIII, Two Noble Kinsmen, and even-surprisingly-Measure for Measure)." He did not mention The Funeral Elegy, which is also included in the new Riverside Shakespeare.
What was most notable throughout the evening for the local Oxfordians in attendance was that none of the three Stratfordians actually engaged the substance of Sobran's presentation, and all continued "not to engage it" even by the evening's end, as Sobran asked them more than once to do so.
Sobran's thesis? That Oxfordians can argue their case from the poems and plays of "their candidate," but that Stratfordians cannot. His final comment for the evening was, "I focused on two works (Hamlet and the Sonnets). Both point to Oxford. Show us they don't. Show us they point to Willie."
Instead, as was so amply demonstrated by Prof. Tobin, the Stratfordian arguments continually marshall the same small set of external facts that supposedly link the Stratford man to the theatre, and therefore, by default, must mean that all references to "Shakespeare" must be to the Stratford man.
Comments overheard afterwards confirmed that, for many in attendance, Sobran had made an effective presentation for his thesis and his opponents had not.
Yet another academic community has yielded to the surge of interest among educators and students for more information and reports on new research discoveries about the actual author of the works of Shakespeare. The twenty-eighth annual CAES (Committee for the Advancement of Early Studies) Conference, directed by Dr. Bruce Hozeski, convened on the campus of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana from October 17th-18th, and featured several presentations to conference attendees on the Shakespeare Authorship Question.
A brisk but entirely friendly interchange of opinion and argument among Stratfordians and Oxfordians punctuated the weekend's proceedings, but the highlights of the conference were the many fine papers (principally Oxfordian in thesis) read by graduate and undergraduate students of Dr. David Richardson of Cleveland State University. Other noted Oxfordians in attendance at the CAES Conference were Dr. Jack Shuttleworth, Chair of the English Department at the US Air Force Academy, and Dr. Daniel Wright, Chair of the English Department at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon (and also a Ball State alum).
Dr. Shuttleworth shared Oxfordian insights with skeptical Stratfordians in attendance at the conference, and Dr. Wright presented a paper entitled, "'A man is but what he knoweth': Why the Shakespeare Canon Cannot Be the Work of the Man from Stratford." Several open-minded Stratfordians were engaged by the discussions, debates, and papers read at the conference. As more walls of Stratfordian orthodoxy within academia continue to crumble, there is good reason, therefore, to hope for yet more captures of the keeps of academia by the bearers of the Oxfordian standard in months and years to come.
Prof. Richardson reports that the student panels on the authorship were among the best attended during the Conference, and that the atmosphere was quite open and positive. In fact, two of the Cleveland State graduate student participants (Jennifer Mattingly and James Maxfield) will be traveling to Concordia University in Portland next spring to present the results of their expanded studies at the Edward de Vere Studies Conference.
Dr. Wright noted that, while there were no "Damascus-like conversions [or] new Society members in evidence from his talk," he did find most of the professors he came in contact with to be receptive and interested. Several have already indicated that they will attend the De Vere Studies Conference next spring. Dr. Wright reports that the De Vere Studies Conference agenda is already quite full, with speakers from the ranks of Oxfordians plus Dr. Richardson's graduate students and several "non-Oxfordian" professors and teachers from around the country scheduled to appear.
The 21st Annual Conference of the Shakespeare Oxford Society was held in Seattle, Washington from October 12th to 15th, 1997. The following reports on Conference activities are adapted from conference coverage in the current issue (Fall 1997/Winter 1998) of the Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter.
As has been the case in recent years, a special public event kicked off the Conference weekend. This year it was a debate between Joseph Sobran, author of Alias Shakespeare, and Prof. Alan H. Nelson from the University of California-Berkeley, who has been researching the authorship question and the life of Edward de Vere over the past several years for a planned biography of de Vere.
Sobran, speaking first, skillfully presented the Oxfordian case in terms similar to those used in his Alias Shakespeare, emphasizing the strong personal autobiographical links in the Sonnets, Hamlet, etc.
While the tactic of arguing the autobiographical nature of the works is a familiar one, Sobran's approach breathes new life into it. This was particularly true when he was able to thank Nelson for all his recent research into Oxford's life, and in particular, to thank him for finding a heretofore unknown Oxford letter (to Lord Burghley in 1595), a letter in which Oxford refers to himself as a "lame man." Upon thanking Nelson, Sobran than immediately asked Alan if he thought the author of the Sonnets (who twice refers to himself as lame), was, in fact, lame? Nelson never did give a direct answer to this direct question.
Sobran has also developed some good lines in making the case for Oxford. For example, he quips that, if the works of Shakespeare were to be used as "testimony" in a court of law, the supporters of "William of Stratford" (as Sobran calls him, rather than Shaksper, Stratford man, etc.) suddenly invoke his "Miranda rights." Sobran notes that when lawyers argue over whether a document should be submitted in evidence, that generally means it can help one side and hurt the other. In the case of Shakespeare, what becomes clear is that Orthodoxy knows that the works can't help their man, in fact can only hurt him, and, further, they know the works can help Oxford.
"Appealing to the Shakespeare works is not a game two can play," Sobran said. "Oxford's partisans play it with gusto. William's partisans can't play it at all. Instead they play the dating game."
Nelson's debate presentation centered on his two years plus of research into Oxford's life, and numerous Elizabethan documents. He first made a number of comments on inaccuracies in Oxfordian research and in the biography of Oxford that has been developed over the years. He went on further to paint a harsh portrait of Oxford (his poetry is "dreadful," his behavior "disgusting," etc.). In short, Nelson's thesis is that Oxford was a mediocre poet and mediocre Latinist who couldn't spell, had a tin ear, owned few books, read few books, and whose contemporaries thought of him as not much more than a "minor" poet.
He responded to Sobran's points about appealing to the Shakespeare works themselves by stating that, "I have no interest in the parallels in Oxford's life and the plays." About the Sonnets he said that, "First the authorship of them must be proved, and [only] then are they interesting."
The second half of his presentation argued for William Shakespeare of Stratford as the author, presenting the usual documentary evidence to back up the historic attribution, such as the First Folio and the monument in Stratford.
To demonstrate what Nelson considers to be the critical difference between bona fide documentary evidence versus what he considers to be the inferior, speculative evidence that Oxfordians rely on, he showed the title pages of several different Elizabethan play quartos with handwritten annotations by Sir George Buc, Master of the Revels in the early 1600s. The annotations, Nelson emphasized, clearly indicate that Buc consulted "Shakespeare" about matters related to plays and playmakers, and since it is also known that he personally knew the Earl of Oxford, one must therefore conclude (as Nelson does) that Buc knew Shakespeare and Oxford were two different people.
During the question and answer session another interesting example of what is or is not documentary evidence came up with mention of Greene's Groatsworth of Wit. Nelson stated that Groatsworth is one of what he described as "puzzles in the documentary record."
"Other documents can shed light on them [the puzzles], but they can't shed light on anything else," he explained. "That's why I like to start with rock solid documents and then pick up the puzzles later."
Sobran quickly pointed out (as everyone in the audience also knew well) that Groatsworth with its "upstart crow" reference is almost a holy grail, cited faithfully in virtually every standard Shakespeare biography. Nelson responded that "There are much more important documents, such as the 1594/95 reference to Shakespeare, Burbage [etc.] ... In my biography of Shakespeare I'll start with 1594/95, not with his birth, not with anything else."
Exchanges such as this illustrate how difficult the whole authorship debate can sometimes be. When a Stratfordian debater can disown Greene's Groatsworth of Wit (and all the mainstream speculation that goes with it), it becomes just that much clearer how definitions about "documentary evidence" can indeed be in the eye of the beholder.
There were eight papers presented this year, plus a number of special events such as the showing of the video interview with Charlton Ogburn, a slide show presentation by Katherine Chiljan, separate workshops for both teachers and newcomers, and for researchers, a Promotions Panel, readings from Alan Hovey's one man play Aye, Shakespeare!, a presentation by Mildred Sexton on Cymbeline just before Greenstage's production on Saturday night, and an update on research into Oxford's Geneva Bible by Roger Stritmatter.
Among this year's papers probably the most notable (and controversial) was "The Relevance of Robert Greene" by Oxfordian editor Stephanie Hughes. After several years of research and reading nearly everything Greene ever wrote, Hughes presented her thesis that Robert Greene may have been an earlier version of the Stratford man, that is to say not a writer himself (or perhaps not even a real individual), but rather a pen name that Oxford used for nearly twelve years, until abruptly discarding it in 1592 in order to launch the "Shake-speare" name.
Dr. Daniel Wright was impressive with his presentation on how Oxford's classical learning is mirrored throughout the Shakespeare Canon ("He Was a Scholar and a Ripe Good One..."). Wright covered much ground, and demonstrated how relatively easy it is to find rich veins of learning in Shakespeare, which in turn clearly makes the point that Shakespeare's breadth and depth of learning, when juxtaposed with the "self-taught" Stratford man, is a problem for anyone wishing to argue for Stratfordian authorship.
Indeed, Dr. Wright made this point perfectly when he read a selection from Geoffrey Bullough's master work Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. After first reading a typical list of the many sources for just one play (with some works often available only in a foreign language), Wright then read a section in which Bullough simply marvels at how Shakespeare seems to have remembered everything he ever heard [not read], and then, at just the right moment in his writing, whatever he needed just "floats up from his unconscious."
Joseph Sobran ("Shakespeare's Lost Poems") and Alan H. Nelson ( "New Light on the Historical William Shakespeare") both presented papers that complemented their respective presentations in the Thursday debate. Among some of the new light presented by Prof. Nelson was the title page to a quarto of Edward III which had a signature-William Shakespeare-on its verso side. Edward III is an apocryphal play that is now included as Shakespeare's in the new Riverside Shakespeare.
Mark Anderson spoke on "Strat or Strata: Merry Wives of Windsor as a case study in Oxfordian chronology," addressing the many layers of composition over time in the Shakespeare plays. Roger Stritmatter presented "By Every Syllable: Shakespeare's Mannerist Parable and the Authorship of Measure for Measure," in which he demonstrated another level of Shakespeare's art in writing this play in which the shadowy Duke actually mirrors the shadowy true author, Edward de Vere.
Elisabeth Sears presentation on "Harts, Hounds and Hedingham" dealt with Ovid and Shakespeare, presenting hard evidence that Oxford was the translator of The Metamorphoses, not Golding.
Finally, Dr. Edward Spencer spoke on "Shakespeare's Sonnets: A Cry from the Tomb." Dr. Spencer presented an updating of analysis first presented by Ralph Tweedle, who believed that the Sonnets as first published in 1609 contain word clues and other encrypted information about their true author, Edward de Vere.
Speakers this year all came from the ranks of current Society members and the Board of Trustees. Michael York's filming schedule unfortunately forced him to cancel his Friday luncheon appearance. However, a reading of Alan Hovey's one-man play Aye, Shakespeare! (moved from its Saturday evening slot) was an exciting and satisfying replacement. Actor John Bogar of Greenstage performed for approximately 20 minutes and gave his audience a feel for how Oxford's story can effectively be told through this popular theatrical form.
Randall Sherman spoke at the Saturday Banquet on his commitment to the authorship cause and how all Oxfordians can contribute. Sherman emphasized the importance to the authorship movement in having the Society continue to gain new members, and how important it can be to have members actively involved in promoting the authorship debate in their own locales.
The other two speakers this year were Christopher Dams, President of the De Vere Society, and William Boyle, Newsletter editor and webmaster for the Society's Internet Home Page. Dams reported on news about the De Vere Society's recent activities in England, but concluded his talk with a statement on the so-called "Prince Tudor" theory, telling his audience that the Society as an organization must be wary of going too public with the theory about Southampton's possibly being the son of Elizabeth and Oxford.
Boyle, during his talk the following day on "Oxford on the Internet," responded to Dams, noting that the Society Home Page carries virtually nothing about the theory. In concluding, he also noted that the history of the authorship movement has often been marked by controversial theories, and the Internet, for all the good it does in publicizing the authorship debate (and the Society), also magnifies such controversy. Debating controversial theories in this new "hothouse" atmosphere is inevitable, Boyle said, and we need to consider not "whether or not" to air controversies, but rather "how to air them."
One of the more recent additions to the regular conference agenda has been workshops for teachers and researchers. Through the workshops basic information can be provided for newcomers to the authorship debate, and more detailed information for those who are interested in contributing to it through either teaching or through original research. This year's workshops built on the success of last year.
The workshop for researchers was conducted this year by Dr. Daniel Wright, Director of the Edward de Vere Studies Conference, and Stephanie Hughes, editor of The Oxfordian. Dr. Wright, Ms. Hughes, and others in attendance shared news about research efforts currently underway by Oxfordians in America and abroad. Broad participation and support for Oxfordian researchers by participants was encouraged, and a host of areas where research and investigation to secure Lord Oxford's recognition as Shakespeare need to be conducted were suggested for and by interested parties in attendance.
The teachers workshop was presented by Robert M. Barrett (a teacher at Central Kitsap Junior High in Kitsap, WA) and Prof. David Richardson of Cleveland State University. The format followed by both Mr. Barrett and Prof. Richardson was to speak on their respective experiences teaching the authorship issue in the classroom. Since their experience ranged from junior high to college undergraduate to graduate level, there was no shortage of experience to draw on. Both presenters shared their practical assignments, readings and other resources as used in their classrooms.
Advancing the Cause
Another interesting conference event was the Promotions Panel conducted by Walter Hurst, Katherine Chiljan and Randall Sherman. The Panel presented information and strategies to enable Oxfordians to publicize and promote the authorship issue in their local communities. All three panelists in this instance had put together the highly successful Oxford Week in San Francisco last April.
Included in this session were a number of useful handouts based on the materials that had been prepared for the Oxford Week events. This included sample press releases, letters to local media, flyers and posters advertising meetings for local chapters, and agendas for meetings.
Walter Hurst was the primary speaker and shared his thoughts and experiences from Oxford Week with attendees. There has probably never been an authorship event quite like Oxford Week, which featured a full agenda of activities including lectures, debates, interviews in both print and on radio, and play performances.
In the weeks following Oxford Week twenty-five new members from the San Francisco and Sacramento area joined the Society, and local chapter meetings were heavily attended. One thing clearly learned during the week, Hurst said, is that there are many people out there who either already know something about the authorship debate, or who are ready to learn about it.
A special highlight this year was the showing of a "rough cut" from the eleven hours of videotape shot over the Labor Day Weekend of an interview with Charlton Ogburn, Jr. at his home in Beaufort, South Carolina. The interview had been arranged by Society member Lisa Wilson after many months of negotiation. A team of five spent three full days in Beaufort working on the project: Lisa Wilson, Laura Wilson, Roger Stritmatter, Mark Ehling and Charles Hubbell.
Just before the screening a letter from Ogburn was read, thanking all those involved in the arrangements, especially interviewer Roger Stritmatter, and all those whose generous contributions made the taping possible.
It is expected that the finished videotape of the interview will be available next spring. It will be made available to members through the Blue Boar.
Pre-production work for Michael Peer's documentary The Shakespeare Conspiracy was scheduled to begin in June 1997.
In the June 1997 De Vere Society Newsletter Peer reports briefly on the project, explaining how the financing through co-producers was finally put together-Austrian and French companies are in, but to his surprise four German companies declined to participate. He also reported that, while the BBC said no too, Laurence Rees (who runs Timewatch) did comment that he knew "it was basically the historic truth...but [he] simply did not dare broach the subject on British TV for fear of the consequences."
De Vere Society patron Sir Derek Jacobi will present and narrate the program, which promises to make it a notable addition to the growing body of work on the authorship question.
On Sunday, August 17th The Washington Post book section featured a major review of three of the most recent authorship books, all of them works that treat the issue seriously, and two of which openly declare for Edward de Vere as the true Shakespeare.
The books reviewed were John Michell's Who Wrote Shakespeare?, Richard Whalen's Shakespeare: Who Was He?, and Joseph Sobran's Alias Shakespeare.
Reviewer Peter W. Dickson (a former CIA analyst) gives an excellent overview of the authorship landscape in the brief space allotted, noting especially how much the debate has heated up in the last ten years. He recommends Michell's book for its overview of the debate, and notes in particular Michell's sympathies for the authorship claim of Mary Sidney (Countess of Pembroke), sister of Sir Phillip Sidney and mother of both of the earls to whom the First Folio is dedicated.
His comments on both Whalen and Sobran highlight the strengths of their presentations and so further the strength of de Vere as the leading authorship claimant Dickson concludes with commentary on the "particularly vexing question" of why the need for long-term secrecy? He introduces an interesting note based on his own research into a book on Christopher Columbus, namely that Columbus' family had also displayed a long-term need for secrecy.
The secret involved Columbus' Portuguese wife and her family's involvement in the Braganza conspiracy to murder the King of Portugal. The intriguing point here is, of course, how a family secret involving high-level politics can be kept secret if all the high-level parties involved see it as necessary.
Meanwhile, the authorship debate and related scholarship is also becoming a regular staple of academic journals as much as it now regularly appears in the popular media.
In The Review of English Studies (May 1997) Diana Price has published an article on the oft-debated matter of the famous Trinity Church monument of Shakespeare (Shaksper) and the equally famous Dugdale rendering of this monument as a man holding a sack. Price's position is that the monument was never changed, a thesis also presented by Jerry Downs and Barbara Westerfield at the 1994 SOS Conference in Carmel, Calif.
The article and this thesis were debated hotly over the summer on the Internet Oxfordian discussion group Phaeton. We will include a more detailed report on this debate in our next Newsletter. Price has also been published in The Shakespeare Newsletter again, doing battle with Donald Foster over Funeral Elegy. (Richard Whalen reports on this at the end of his book review on page 17.)
It is of special interest how often authorship matters now appear in The Shakespeare Newsletter, for when the editorship first changed hands in 1993 new editor Thomas Pendleton canceled the Oxfordian page and indicated authorship merited no attention whatsoever in a mainstream publication such as The Shakespeare Newsletter.
Meanwhile, Gary Goldstein's Elizabethan Review has published in its latest issue (Spring 1997) David Kathman's "Why I Am Not an Oxfordian," a broadside against all Oxfordians, and in particular, Charlton Ogburn and his The Mysterious William Shakespeare. Kathman is a familiar name to those on the Internet, where he co-manages the Shakespeare Authorship Page and debates authorship regularly on the Usenet Shakespeare group.
While some Oxfordians have been surprised that this lengthy one-sided article was published by Goldstein, he has defended his decision in a letter to Ogburn by noting that it really represents progress, with the Academy engaging a leading Oxfordian in scholarly terms. Goldstein stated that the article advances the legitimacy of the authorship question, with an academic questioning [Oxfordian] evidence and challenging us to say otherwise.
"I do not see how a few minor errors on our part invalidates our mass of evidence," Goldstein wrote. " What Kathman has done is what no other academic has done: taken us seriously enough for a printed attack."
The last week of a busy month of April saw several perspectives on how the authorship story is covered in the media.
In The Washington Times, British actor Sir Derek Jacobi was quoted in an April 25th interview as "being very beguiled by the Earl of Oxford theory."
The Washington Times article included a photo whose caption read "Although he will be honored by the Shakespeare Guild and Library, Sir Derek Jacobi doubts that Shakespeare wrote the works credited to him. He thinks Earl Edward de Vere [sic] was the plays' author." The relevant section of the story reads:
Patrons of the Folger Library and the Shakespeare Guild may find it interesting to quiz Mr. Jacobi about his skepticism on the subject of the Bard of Avon. While acknowledging that disputes about the factual identity of William Shakespeare 'are almost certain to remain debatable and unanswerable,' he admits to being 'very beguiled by the Earl of Oxford theory.'Meanwhile, just three days earlier (April 22nd), The New York Times ran a Shakespeare feature story ("After Four Centuries, Still Gaining Devotees") in which The Times managed, once again, to miss the story.
'I agreed to put my name to a school of thought [the Shakespeare Oxford Society petition] that maintains that the earl, Edward de Vere, was the author of the plays,' he says.
Mr. Jacobi explains his heresy by asking rhetorically, 'Where did this Shakespeare come from? Where did all that knowledge and eloquence and truth come from?'
In his estimation, de Vere seems the plausible candidate. 'I am highly suspicious of that gentleman from Stratford on Avon,' he says. 'I'm pretty convinced our playwright wasn't that fellow. This opinion is very unpopular with the good burghers of Stratford, I realize, but they also make their living on the legend of Shakespeare's local origins. I don't think it was him.
Their story focused on Shakespeare studies in colleges and universities, and noted that, despite a recent report about a decline in Shakespeare course requirement for English majors, Shakespeare classes at many schools were actually overflowing: "Shakespeare is thriving," observed Barbara Mowat, the outgoing SAA president.
"Shakespeare is a big tent," Prof. David Bevington (U. Chicago) is quoted as saying. "[Shakespeare study] responds to every kind of post-modern question...to all the theorists." Stephen Greenblatt (editor of the new Norton Shakespeare) remarks: "Shakespeare is around not because of the conspiracies of professors, but because he is incontestably wonderful."
Theorists? Conspiracies? So, then, what did the article have to say about the burgeoning authorship debate of the last 10-15 years? The answer is: nothing. We can only guess that means it "isn't news," or as we said last summer about another New York Times Shakespeare feature (Summer 1996 Newsletter), maybe it just isn't news that "fits."
Society member Alice Lundskow wrote The Times a letter on April 24th in which she chided the paper for "its haughty and unswerving avoidance of the vital and valid Shakespeare identity issue," noting that the "rousing interest in the proposal that "Shake-speare" was a pseudonym flourishes internationally in sectors of academe, the media, [and] on the Internet, urged on by newly-prospering interest groups [such as] the Shakespeare Oxford Society."
True words indeed. Just ask Sir Derek Jacobi, or readers of the "other" Times.
Past Society President Richard Whalen and newly-elected Trustee Elliott Stone attended the Annual SAA Conference held in late March in Washington, D.C. Since no Society members were presenting seminar papers this year, the large Society presence of the past few years was absent. We will, however, be back next year.
One event of interest for Oxfordians was a talk given by Hardy Cook, the editor/moderator of SHAKSPER, the Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference. In reviewing his tenure as editor he touched upon the events of 1994, when the authorship debate broke out and slowly escalated into an all-out flame war by the end of the year. It was then that Cook banned any further authorship discussion on SHAKSPER.
He told his SAA audience that "I tried to be patient ...but after a while I deemed, as a responsible Shakespearean firmly ensconced in academia, that I could no longer tolerate the misleading, conspiracy-laden ramblings and banned further discussion on the topic."
Part of the fallout from these events in 1994 was the establishment later in 1995 of the Usenet newsgroup, humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare, which came about primarily through the efforts of Shakespeare Oxford Society member Marty Hyatt. Authorship is a regular topic on this group.
However, as Dr. Daniel Wright of Concordia University found out earlier this year, the effect of the SHAKSPER banishment has extended, several years later, to Cook's refusal even to carry a notice about the first Edward de Vere Studies Conference at Concordia.
Another event of interest to Oxfordians also took place in Washington recently. On April 24th Irv Matus (author of Shakespeare IN FACT) gave a talk at the Library of Congress entitled "Why There Is a Shakespeare Authorship Question."
Among the arguments he presented in claiming that there really is no authorship question was a direct rebuttal to one of the chief criticisms of his book, mainly that he failed to address the numerous connections between Oxford's life and the plays. In this regard he singled out Roger Stritmatter's analysis of Hamlet for particular scrutiny. After challenging some familiar points (i.e. he claims that a majority of scholars today reject seeing Polonius as a caricature of Lord Burghley), he reached a conclusion that seems to be a new part of the Stratfordian defense strategy for the 90's.
In short, Matus argued that Oxfordians diminish Hamlet by positing Oxford as the author and "would have it that the heart of the play is a trail of bread crumbs leading to its author and his personal peeves with the court of Elizabeth." He further emphasized this point by noting that Hamlet never uses the first person "I" in "To be or not to be", which means (Matus said) that Hamlet is not speaking of himself alone at all, but rather is pondering the question of why people (mankind?) endure "the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to."
Which, then, only leads us to wonder, "Can anyone be the author of Hamlet?"
After months of tireless effort and enthusiastic support, the Horatio Society successfully pulled off "Oxford Week" in San Francisco.
Strategically planned for the traditional Shakespeare birth week, its object was, of course, to get out the Oxfordian message through radio, TV and lectures featuring Charles Burford and Joseph Sobran. Events kicked off on Sunday, April 20th with a reception for Burford and an official unveiling of the newly discovered portrait of the Earl of Oxford by Katherine Chiljan. Bay Area Oxfordians and others from Los Angeles and Sacramento attended the wine and hors d'oeuvres SOS benefit. After the unveiling, Katherine spoke about the portrait's provenance, and Burford gave his reasons why he believed the portrait was indeed of Edward de Vere.
The first day began with an early morning reception/continental breakfast at a local restaurant across from the State Capitol Building, hosted by Assembly Member Richard Floyd. Many legislators and lobbyists were on hand for this informal event, and Burford was presented with the first of two legislative resolutions in his honor. After the reception, the entire party (with the exception of newly-elected Society Trustee Wally Hurst, who is not allowed on the floor of either house because he is a lobbyist) was escorted to a front-row seat on the floor of the California Senate. Senator Ray Haynes introduced Joseph Sobran and Senator Quentin Kopp made a stirring speech introducing Burford and presenting him with a Senate resolution honoring his visit to California's Capitol. The party was then wisked across the beautifully restored Rotunda to the California State Assembly, where assembly Member Floyd introduced Burford and Assembly Member Tom McClintock introduced Sobran. Burford then taped a 30-minute interview with a local television station.
Later that afternoon, Joe Sobran (Alias Shakespeare, Free Press, 1997) went to a book-signing at a local bookstore, signing all the books they had for him and necessitating a frenzied search for more. Burford, meanwhile, was off to tape a debate with a professor from California State University, Sacramento for the local National Public Radio affiliate station. We have it on good authority that the professor began the debate pledging her undying acceptance of the Stratford man as the author, and by the end of the debate was heard to be saying things such as "...the author, whoever he was" and asking questions of Burford regarding the authorship issue! At a local professional theater co-owned by the Busfield brothers, Tim and Buck (you may recall Tim Busfield from several movies and the hit series Thirtysomething) we were allowed the use of their entire theater for a presentation by Sobran and Burford on the authorship issue. Thanks in large part to advance publicity and a large article in the only major metropolitan daily's Sunday entertainment section, the theater was almost full by the time Joe Sobran was introduced. He spoke eloquently on the authorship issue, concentrating on the Sonnets, and received several questions and warm applause when he was finished. After a short break, Charles Burford took the stage and gave an excellent presentation.
After he completed his lecture, the questions were fired fast and furious at him, but he handled them all with grace and dignity- and continued to educate those present with a display of the depth and breadth of his knowledge of the plays and sonnets by the world's greatest author. After the questions, he stayed behind for all who wished to shake his hand or greet him. Our day done, all of us (including several audience members!) retired to the largest English pub in Sacramento, the Fox and Goose, for much-needed refreshments, toasting the success of the day. There was animated discussion, camaraderie, and fellowship in abundance for all present.
On Tuesday, the day started early once again for the group. Burford and Sobran made two co-presentations at Rio Americano High School beginning at eight o'clock that morning, reaching over 100 appreciative students with their efforts and being rewarded with several cogent questions by their audiences at this prestigious Sacramento area high school. In the afternoon, Sobran had to get a column finished, so Burford spoke by himself at Sacramento City College, whose theater program is responsible for producing the highly successful "Shakespeare in the Park" series every summer. Dozens of students from the English, drama and debate sections leaned heavily on every word he said. It was a fantastic lecture, and the students (and their instructors) were very impressed. After a substantial question and answer period, the professor in charge sadly announced that the class period(s) allotted were over. Sobran later appeared on a Bay Area radio program (from Sacramento by phone), and we all joined up at Elanore Wootton's home, which she and her husband Bill graciously offered to us for a reception and a delicious dinner.
Following the Sacramento events, the schedule returned to San Francisco on Wednesday, April 23rd, the traditional Shakespeare birthday. Burford talked authorship to his fellow countrymen and Anglophiles at the English Speaking Union; the luncheon-lecture was held at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Hours later, he was the featured speaker at the prestigious Commonwealth Club, where typical speakers are world leaders. Joe Sobran opened for Charles with smooth voice and wit, reiterating points from his newly published book, Alias Shakespeare.
Later that day Burford was interviewed at the San Francisco Chronicle by Jerry Carroll for an article which made the front page of the paper's entertainment section: a large color photo of Charles was juxtaposed with the dust-jacket picture of Oxford from Sobran's new book. Also interviewed for the article was Prof. Alan Nelson of U.C. Berkeley, who was quoted as being "loaded for bear" for the authorship debate with Charles, which took place the next day.
Over 80 students gathered at the Cal Berkeley campus for the debate, moderated by Randall Sherman. Burford spoke first, and was his usual erudite self, emphasizing that Oxford was satirizing Queen Elizabeth's court. Nelson denied that was true, except possibly in Midsummer's Night Dream, which had Burford laughing: "The Queen falls in love with an ass?" he asked. Nelson's strategy was to list facts proving that Shaxper was a real person (who denies that?) and give another list of facts showing that Oxford (and his father too) was a nasty person (which disqualifies him for the authorship?). Boasting his expert status in paleography, Nelson also stated that Shaxper's "shaky" signatures indicated a literary hand, and that Oxford's poetry and spelling were atrocious. Burford responded that Spencer wrote that Oxford was "dear to the Muses," so who's the better authority, Edmund Spencer or Alan Nelson? For those who are not already aware, Prof. Nelson has made detailed transcriptions of all of Oxford's surviving letters and makes them available on the Internet. He is also working on a new biography of Oxford, the first since B.M. Ward's excellent 1928 work. Nelson reports he's gotten as far as 1578 -we wonder which year he will finally utter, "Is't real that I see?"
During the week, Burford gave a live interview on radio station KZON in Napa, as did Joe Sobran on the Michael Savage Show (KSFO) in San Francisco. Sobran also made a book-signing appearance at Borders Bookstore on Union Square. Oxford Week concluded on Friday evening with a speech by Burford at the St. Francis' Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Afterwards Horatio Society members let loose at a closing celebration party at Randall Sherman's home. All kudos to Charles, Joe and Randall for gracefully enduring an exhausting but productive week.
Beyond getting the word out to thousands of people, both in person and through the media, perhaps the best accomplishment of Oxford Week was the bonding that occurred with Bay Area Oxfordians. A core group of Society members (Ramon Jimenez, Scott Fanning, Claire LePelle, Sandy Hochberg, Dr. Ed Spencer, Wally and Marie Hurst) worked closely together for months to make these events happen. Five members donated money to offset expenses, and David Hicks generously hosted a party as a special thanks for all our efforts. This group effort, plus the socializing after each event, made our members more fervent than eVer for achieving Oxfordian justice.
James Liu, though, had another reason. Liu, a Stanford University librarian, had phoned a Stanford professor during preparations for Oxford Week to let him know that an Oxfordian speaker was coming to town. Cutting him off within seconds, the professor cried, "Call the abnormal psych department!" The only way Oxfordians can conquer such prejudice is by developing a sense of community and directing it toward organized activism-doing things like "Oxford Week."
The first weekend in April saw an important event in Oxfordian studies as the First Annual Edward de Vere Studies Conference was held at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon. This is the first time an accredited institution of higher learning has opened its doors to a full-scale annual conference. The organizer of the symposium, Dr. Daniel Wright, head of Concordia's English Department, feels it is of utmost importance to bring the issue of Oxford's candidacy for author of the Shakespeare canon before the academic community, which until now has remained firmly entrenched against any who would dare to question the Stratford myth.
It is altogether appropriate that it should be at Concordia, a Lutheran university, that this intensely controversial topic has been brought forward for discussion, since it was in the atmosphere of the so-called New Learning which was stimulated by Martin Luther's great religious reformation, that Edward de Vere received the education that, we believe, gave him the tools to create the works of Shakespeare.
Concordia's provost, Dr. Johnnie Driessner, welcomed the conference-goers on Friday morning, saying: "Concordia counts it as an honor to provide the academic context for this conference. We feel that it lives out the fundamental goal of the University, and that is to nurture an environment in which the pursuit of truth is protected. In fact it is commitment to the quest for truth that most fully articulates the essence of a learning community. Concordia nests that quest for truth in a series of values. They are the values of justice, of humility, and of service, and I would encourage those same values to you. We believe that the quest for truth only achieves its highest estate when it's housed in those values. I pray that you enjoy your quest..., [and] wish blessings on the discourse of the conference."
Our "quest for truth" opened with enthusiastic letters from Charlton Ogburn and Charles Burford, followed over the course of the three days of the conference by two films, two panel discussions, and papers by Dr. Wright, Roger Stritmatter, Mildred Sexton, Col. Jack Shuttleworth, Stephanie Hughes, Dr. Frances Howard-Snyder, Elisabeth Sears, and Mark Anderson. Excellent papers were read as well by two Concordia students, Charlotte Evensen, an English major from Kenya, and Victoria Kramer, a Secondary Ed-Language Arts major, both now well-informed and highly articulate promoters of the Oxfordian hypothesis. A teachers' workshop run by Mildred Sexton and a theater workshop put on by a local director, Connor Kerns, and two of his actors, were important additions to the program.
The pleasant campus, the wonderful weather, and the meal together in downtown Portland promoted an atmosphere of intense discussion and camaraderie. Please mark your calendars for the first weekend in April, 1998, when the Second Annual Edward de Vere symposium will take place. Dr. Wright will have full information available well in advance, with nearby hotel accommodations and car rental options in place. (Concordia is only about five minutes from the airport.) Portland is a delightful city, known for its clean streets, its pleasant residents, excellent coffee, and the world-renowned Powell's Bookstore. While most of the northern U.S. is still gray, brown, and shivering, Portland in early April is already green and blooming. This annual conference promises to become an event of great importance to the cause of Oxfordian scholarship.